Giving Up the Keys: How Driving Cessation Affects Engagement in Later Life

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Abstract

Purpose: Many older adults consider driving vital to maintaining their preferred lifestyle and engagement with society, yet it is normative for individuals to eventually stop driving. This study examined the impact of driving cessation on older adults’ productive and social engagement and whether their mental and physical health mediated this relationship. Design and Methods: Multilevel modeling was used to analyze longitudinal data (N = 4,788 adults age 65 and over) from the Health and Retirement Study (1998–2010). Results: Productive engagement (paid work, formal volunteering, and informal volunteering) was negatively affected when older adults stopped driving, but social engagement was not immediately compromised by their transition to nondriver status. The role of physical health and mental health as mediators in explaining this relationship was negligible. Implications: The results suggest that interventions aimed at maintaining nondrivers’ participation in productive roles should focus on factors other than enhancement of health and well-being to spur greater engagement (e.g., availability of and barriers to use of public transportation). Also important in the intervention process is planning for mobility transitions. Future research should test for geographic (e.g., urban vs. rural) differences in the impact of driving cessation on productive and social engagement.

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